Emma King BSN, and Shannon Penney BSN, recent graduates of NYU Meyers and former HIGN Scholars, discuss their journey of becoming nurses and their interest in caring for the older adults population.
How did you become interested in Geriatric Nursing?
Emma: Initially, because of my specific interest in end-of-life care, I sought out Geriatric focused groups like HIGN and GSIG (the Geriatric Student Interest Group) for which I acted as president.
Shannon: For me, the decision to work with older adults was surely influenced by my grandparents – all four of whom I was able to have relationships with well into my adulthood. Each were matriarchs and patriarchs in the classical sense, and I am incredibly lucky that they were all kind, caring, loving, and reasonable people. They were the kind of grandparents that made you proud of your family and piqued your interest in ancestry and heritage. As only one of four remain with us today, I have an even greater appreciation for how long they lived healthy, beautiful lives as older people.
How do others view older patients in the healthcare field?
Emma: In the world and in the hospital older adult's lives are invisible, their social-emotional needs are considered an inconvenience and their care is seen as complex, perhaps, but ultimately "boring". We can no longer afford to think this way. There will soon be too many older adults interacting with medical care for this population to be at all invisible, too many who have experienced a mental health crisis for us to ignore their social and emotional needs, too many with medical care more complex than ever seen before, for us to be bored.
Shannon: Often nurses would sigh before going into older adults' rooms because it demanded so much more of their time and energy, but I loved it. They were funny, and smart, and so eager to tell you about their condition - as a new nurse this was such amazing practical knowledge. I would come out of the room with information about them that seemed relevant to their patient profile but that the team didn’t know about, or wouldn’t be noted in their charts.
What is your advice to those who will be serving the older adults population?
Emma: My advice to you as future nurses is to allow yourself to honestly witness the state of end-of-life care and dying. Are people's needs being met? Is this care actually boring? As an HIGN scholar in the Complex Care of the Older Adult seminar class I focused on the caregiver dyad, showing how older patients and their unpaid family caregivers move through the care system as an interconnected unit whose health is "bidirectional," what affects one affects the other. We have to move away from seeing patients as individuals in a vacuum, their health and their loved ones' health depends on it. Advocating for older patients and their caregiver may be considered unexciting by the medical culture but being a change-maker will never be boring!
Shannon: I’m not sure I have any resounding advice on working with older patients, but I do think perspective helps a great deal. As frustrating as it can be when your patient can’t hear you, can’t get comfortable, can’t remember their medications, etc. – I always try to remember how special this population actually is. And more importantly, how much of a privilege old age is. How privileged our families have been to have our grandparents with us for so long. As nurses, we need to celebrate aging and benefit from the rich experiences older adults bring to us. Aging is a gift to be shared.
Our scholars acknowledge the challenges associated with providing care to older adults but also highlight the rewards of working with this population. It is essential that nursing schools provide the geriatric education and experience needed to improve the care of older adults.